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Kevin Murray of Cork celebrates a late point during the 1999 Munster semi-final in Thurles. Picture: Ray McManus/Sportsfile
Kevin Murray of Cork celebrates a late point during the 1999 Munster semi-final in Thurles. Picture: Ray McManus/Sportsfile
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John Horgan: My five favourite Cork hurling wins at Semple Stadium

THE Home of Hurling, Tom Semple’s Field, Field of Legends, some of the names associated with that great GAA venue, Thurles.

It’s difficult to argue with some of those descriptions because for as long as one can remember, Thurles holds special memories for GAA fans across the landscape, particularly in Munster.

For Cork fans it has often been a home from home. In fact, if you asked Rebel County supporters the chances are that they would choose Thurles as their favourite GAA ground, even ahead of their own headquarters.

Johnny Crowley did the business in Thurles in '84. Picture: INPHO/Billy Stickland 
Johnny Crowley did the business in Thurles in '84. Picture: INPHO/Billy Stickland 

The pilgrimage to the venue goes back to an era long passed now and it was often known that back in the 1930s and 1940s Cork supporters could leave home at six in the morning to cycle to the great Tipperary venue.

In more recent times, before we had a dual carriageway all the way to Dublin, it could take a good three hours to reach the outskirts of the town such was the volume of traffic on the road.

I can remember being in a traffic jam that began in Rathcormac back in the 1970s during the three-in-a-row era of 1976-78.

Thurles has always had that unique aura for Cork hurling supporters and there have been some great days of celebration out on that pristine sod.

The atmosphere in the Square on the day of a big game was always electric.

The return home might take a few hours as well, dropping into some well-known watering holes in Cashel, Cahir and ending up maybe in the Blue Dragon in Mitchelstown.

The laws of the land were much different back then, of course. Now it’s up for the game and an immediate return home afterwards.

There have been some bad days too up there, days when Cork were on the wrong end of heavy losses.

But the good times, we’d like to think, outweigh the bad ones and here we are going to reflect briefly on five very good days in the great hurling home.

Seanie McGrath takes on Tom Feeney of Waterford. Picture: Ray McManus/Sportsfile
Seanie McGrath takes on Tom Feeney of Waterford. Picture: Ray McManus/Sportsfile

1. Munster hurling final, 1978:

Cork went into this game as reigning Munster and All-Ireland champions, on the three-in-a-row trail trail but at half-time it looked like their reign was coming to an end.

At half-time, having played with the aid of a near hurricane wind, they led by just two points, 0-5 to 0-3 and with the wind going to be in Clare’s favour thereafter, Cork looked in right trouble.

In fact, the Clare team got a standing ovation going off at half-time and they had a quality team that had recently won the league and had Justin McCarthy at the helm.

But what transpired thereafter was nothing short of heroic from a Cork viewpoint.

Martin Coleman dashing out to rob Clare full-forward Martin McKeogh.
Martin Coleman dashing out to rob Clare full-forward Martin McKeogh.

Inspired by the brilliance of Denis Burns, John Horgan, and Brian Murphy in the full-back line, they stood firm, defending heroically and never losing the lead.

They eventually won by two points, 0-13 to 0-11, surely one of the finest hours from that great team.

2. Munster hurling final, 1984:

It was Centenary Year and it was Cork and Tipp in the provincial decider. Tipp were desperate to win the All-Ireland that year in their own home where the association was founded.

And with time fast running out it looked like they had taken a major step when they led by four points.

The Tipp crowd was going wild, but what followed was the stuff of fairytales. Pat Hartnett starred at midfield, Tony O’Sullivan pounced for a goal which as followed by another from Seanie O’Leary.

Two more points followed and Cork ran out winning by four points, 4-15 to 3-14.

Action from the 1984 Munster hurling final.
Action from the 1984 Munster hurling final.

In a few short minutes the hurling world had been turned upside down and the memory of the late drama will stand the test of time, Cork denying their arch rivals what would have been one of their sweetest victories.

3. All-Ireland hurling final, 1984:

Cork were back at the iconic venue a few months later to tackle Offaly in the All-Ireland final. Much was expected from the game, but Offaly were a distant second best.

Tony O’Sullivan scored six points from play, Johnny Crowley was outstanding at centre-back and John Fenton was a captain fantastic as Cork ran out winning convincingly on a scoreline of 3-16 to 1-12.

JBM hits the net at Thurles.
JBM hits the net at Thurles.

In the home of hurling Cork had won the All-Ireland.

4 Munster hurling versus Waterford, 1999:

This was the day that Cork boss Jimmy Barry-Murphy gave youth its fling, introducing six debutants on to the team after the county had been beaten by Clare the year previous. In came Mickey O’Connell, Donal Óg Cusack, Neil Ronan, Wayne Sherlock, Timmy Mac and Ben O’Connor.

Ben O'Connor battling in 1999. Picture: Ray McManus/Sportsfile
Ben O'Connor battling in 1999. Picture: Ray McManus/Sportsfile

O’Connell was inspirational, scoring 0-8 as a new Cork team took a huge step towards going on to win an unexpected All-Ireland.

Barry-Murphy took a huge gamble but it paid off handsomely.

Joy for JBM in 1999. Picture: Ray McManus/Sportsfile
Joy for JBM in 1999. Picture: Ray McManus/Sportsfile

5 Munster final, 1990:

Another old firm final with Tipp the reigning All-Ireland holders and hot favourites.

But again, Cork defied the odds, the final became known as Mark Foley’s who scored 2-7 from play in a game that the Timoleague man will never forget.

Everything he touched turned to gold that July Sunday.

John Fitzgibbon breaking through the Tipp defence.
John Fitzgibbon breaking through the Tipp defence.

Tony O’Sullivan was inspirational too while Jim Cashman was outstanding in defence It was another one of Cork’s sweetest victories in this great GAA stadium.

Yes, the great memories are many of those trips to Tipp.